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Monday, July 24, 2017

88. The Land of Frankenstein: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

Chapter Seven 



The Prussian Connection 

Prussian Fire-Discipline 

On approaching the enemy, the marching columns of Prussians wheeled in succession to 
the right or left, passed along the front of the enemy until the rear company had wheeled. 
Then the whole together wheeled into line facing the enemy. These movements brought 
the infantry into two long well-closed lines, parade-ground precision obtained thanks to 
remorseless drilling. With this movement was bound up a fire-discipline more 
extraordinary than any perfection of maneuver. "Pelotonfeuer" was opened at 200 paces 
from the enemy and continued up to 30 paces when the line fell on with the bayonet. The 
possibility of this combination of fire and movement was the work of Leopold, who by 
sheer drill made the soldier a machine capable of delivering (with flintlock muzzle- 
loading muskets) five volleys a minute. The special Prussian fire-discipline gave an 
advantage of five shots to two against all opponents. The bayonet attack, if the rolling 
volleys had done their work, was merely "presenting the cheque for payment, " as a 
German writer put it. 
— Encyclopedia Britannica, 1 1th edition, "Prussia" 

The Land of Frankenstein 

The particular Utopia American believers chose to bring to the schoolhouse was Prussian. 
The seed that became American schooling, twentieth-century style, was planted in 1 806 
when Napoleon's amateur soldiers bested the professional soldiers of Prussia at the battle 
of Jena. When your business is renting soldiers and employing diplomatic extortion under 
threat of your soldiery, losing a battle like that is pretty serious. Something had to be 
done. 

The most important immediate reaction to Jena was an immortal speech, the "Address to 
the German Nation" by the philosopher Fichte — one of the influential documents of 
modern history leading directly to the first workable compulsion schools in the West. 
Other times, other lands talked about schooling, but all failed to deliver. Simple forced 
training for brief intervals and for narrow purposes was the best that had ever been 
managed. This time would be different. 

In no uncertain terms Fichte told Prussia the party was over. Children would have to be 
disciplined through a new form of universal conditioning. They could no longer be 
trusted to their parents. Look what Napoleon had done by banishing sentiment in the 
interests of nationalism. Through forced schooling, everyone would learn that "work 
makes free," and working for the State, even laying down one's life to its commands, was 
the greatest freedom of all. Here in the genius of semantic redefinition 1 lay the power to 



cloud men's minds, a power later packaged and sold by public relations pioneers Edward 
Bernays and Ivy Lee in the seedtime of American forced schooling. 

Prior to Fichte's challenge any number of compulsion-school proclamations had rolled 
off printing presses here and there, including Martin Luther's plan to tie church and state 
together this way and, of course, the "Old Deluder Satan" law of 1642 in Massachusetts 
and its 1645 extension. The problem was these earlier ventures were virtually 
unenforceable, roundly ignored by those who smelled mischief lurking behind fancy 
promises of free education. People who wanted their kids schooled had them schooled 
even then; people who didn't didn't. That was more or less true for most of us right into 
the twentieth century: as late as 1920, only 32 percent of American kids went past 
elementary school. If that sounds impossible, consider the practice in Switzerland today 
where only 23 percent of the student population goes to high school, though Switzerland 
has the world's highest per capita income in the world. 

Prussia was prepared to use bayonets on its own people as readily as it wielded them 
against others, so it's not all that surprising the human race got its first effective secular 
compulsion schooling out of Prussia in 1819, the same year Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, 
set in the darkness of far-off Germany, was published in England. Schule came after more 
than a decade of deliberations, commissions, testimony, and debate. For a brief, hopeful 
moment, Humboldt's brilliant arguments for a high-level no-holds-barred, free-swinging, 
universal, intellectual course of study for all, full of variety, free debate, rich experience, 
and personalized curricula almost won the day. What a different world we would have 
today if Humboldt had won the Prussian debate, but the forces backing Baron vom Stein 
won instead. And that has made all the difference. 

The Prussian mind, which carried the day, held a clear idea of what centralized schooling 
should deliver: 1) Obedient soldiers to the army; 2 2) Obedient workers for mines, 
factories, and farms; 3) Well-subordinated civil servants, trained in their function; 4) 
Well-subordinated clerks for industry; 5) Citizens who thought alike on most issues; 6) 
National uniformity in thought, word, and deed. 

The area of individual volition for commoners was severely foreclosed by Prussian 
psychological training procedures drawn from the experience of animal husbandry and 
equestrian training, and also taken from past military experience. Much later, in our own 
time, the techniques of these assorted crafts and sullen arts became "discoveries" in the 
pedagogical pseudoscience of psychological behaviorism. 

Prussian schools delivered everything they promised. Every important matter could now 
be confidently worked out in advance by leading families and institutional heads because 
well-schooled masses would concur with a minimum of opposition. This tightly schooled 
consensus in Prussia eventually combined the kaleidoscopic German principalities into a 
united Germany, after a thousand years as a nation in fragments. What a surprise the 
world would soon get from this successful experiment in national centralization! Under 
Prussian state socialism private industry surged, vaulting resource-poor Prussia up among 
world leaders. Military success remained Prussia's touchstone. Even before the school 



law went into full effect as an enhancer of state priorities, the army corps under Blucher 
was the principal reason for Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo, its superb discipline allowing 
for a surprisingly successful return to combat after what seemed to be a crushing defeat at 
the Little Corporal's hands just days before. 3 Unschooled, the Prussians were awesome; 
conditioned in the classroom promised to make them even more formidable. 

The immense prestige earned from this triumph reverberated through an America not so 
lucky in its own recent fortunes of war, a country humiliated by a shabby showing against 
the British in the War of 1812. Even thirty years after Waterloo, so highly was Prussia 
regarded in America and Britain, the English-speaking adversaries selected the Prussian 
king to arbitrate our northwest border with Canada. Hence the Pennsylvania town "King 
of Prussia." Thirty-three years after Prussia made state schooling work, we borrowed the 
structure, style, and intention of those Germans for our own first compulsion schools. 

Traditional American school purpose — piety, good manners, basic intellectual tools, self- 
reliance, etc. — was scrapped to make way for something different. Our historical 
destination of personal independence gave way slowly to Prussian-purpose schooling, not 
because the American way lost in any competition of ideas, but because for the new 
commercial and manufacturing hierarchs, such a course made better economic sense. 

This private advance toward nationalized schooling in America was partially organized, 
although little has ever been written about it; Orestes Brownson's journal identifies a 
covert national apparatus (to which Brownson briefly belonged) already in place in the 
decade after the War of 1812, one whose stated purpose was to "Germanize" America, 
beginning in those troubled neighborhoods where the urban poor huddled, and where 
disorganized new immigrants made easy targets, according to Brownson. Enmity on the 
part of old-stock middle-class and working-class populations toward newer immigrants 
gave these unfortunates no appeal against the school sentence to which Massachusetts 
assigned them. They were in for a complete makeover, like it or not. 

Much of the story, as it was being written by 1844, lies just under the surface of Mann's 
florid prose in his Seventh Annual Report to the Boston School Committee. On a visit to 
Prussia the year before, he had been much impressed (so he said) with the ease by which 
Prussian calculations could determine precisely how many thinkers, problem-solvers, and 
working stiffs the State would require over the coming decade, then how it offered the 
precise categories of training required to develop the percentages of human resource 
needed. All this was much fairer to Mann than England's repulsive episcopal system — 
schooling based on social class; Prussia, he thought, was republican in the desirable, 
manly, Roman sense. Massachusetts must take the same direction. 



Machiavelli had clearly identified this as a necessary strategy of state in 1532, and even explored its choreography. 

"For an ironic reflection on the success of Prussian educational ideals, take a look at Martin Van Creveld's 

Fighting Power (Greenwood Press, 1982). Creveld, the world's finest military historian, undertakes to explain why German armies in 19 14 
1918 and 1939-1945, although heavily outnumbered in the major battles of both wars, consistently inflicted 30 percent more casualties than 
they suffered, whether they were winning or losing, on defense or on offense, no matter who they fought. They were better led, we might 
suspect, but the actual training of those field commanders comes as a shock. While American officer selection was right out of Frederick 



Taylor, complete with psychological dossiers and standardized tests, German officer training emphasized individual apprenticeships, week- 
long field evaluations, extended discursive written evaluations by senior officers who personally knew the candidates. The surprise is, while 
German state management was rigid and regulated with its common citizens, it was liberal and adventuresome with its elites. After WWII, and 
particularly after Vietnam, American elite military practice began to follow this German model. Ironically enough, America's elite private 
boarding schools like Groton had followed the Prussian lead from their inception as well as the British models of Eton and Harrow. 

German elite war doctrine cut straight to the heart of the difference between the truly educated and the merely schooled. For the German High 
Command war was seen as an art, a creative activity, grounded in science. War made the highest demands on an officer's entire personality and 
the role of the individual in Germany was decisive. American emphasis, on the other hand, was doctrinal, fixated on cookbook rules. The U.S. 
officer's manual said: "Doctrines of combat operation are neither numerous nor complex. Knowledge of these doctrines provides a firm basis 
for action in a particular situation." This reliance on automatic procedure rather than on creative individual decisions got a lot of Americans 
killed by the book. The irony, of course, was that American, British, and French officers got the same lockstep conditioning in dependence that 
German foot soldiers did. There are some obvious lessons here which can be applied directly to public schooling. 

Napoleon assumed the Prussians were retreating in the direction of the Rhine after a defeat, but in truth they were only executing a feint. The 
French were about to overrun Wellington when Blucher's "Death's Head Hussars," driven beyond human endurance by their officers, reached 
the battlefield at a decisive moment. Not pausing to rest, the Prussians immediately went into battle, taking the French in the rear and right 
wing. Napoleon toppled, and Prussian discipline became the focus of world attention. 

The Long Reach Of The Teutonic Knights 

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